The folly of speaking impetuously

The author of Proverbs 8:21: “Death and life are in the power of one’s tongue’’ – a verse that is commonly found displayed on signs in IDF basic training camps — might have had on his mind God’s proscription of Adam not to eat ‘’of the Tree of knowledge of good and evil…for on the day that you will eat of it, you will surely die’’ (Genesis 2:17).  And even more specifically – as we read in the first portion of the Torah, Bereshit, this week — what Adam had surely told the woman, whom God had made after decreeing to Adam about the forbidden tree.

According to the Midrash it was Adam who informed his partner that they were not to eat of the tree nor touch it. Indeed, the woman tells the serpent that God forbade them to either ‘’eat of it or touch it, lest you die’’ (3:3).  Before she ate of the forbidden fruit, the woman first touched and held it, an action that did not violate God’s fiat. Seeing that no harm befell her instantly, the woman must have inferred that her partner, Adam, lied to her, not only about the prohibition against touching the tree, but also about the Divine prohibition against eating of it. Hence, she ate of the fruit and even shared it quickly with Adam.

With this action the two sealed their Divine sentence, even as they were doomed to eat from the tree – ‘’for in the day that you eat thereof’’; God did not say ‘’if’’ or ‘’should’’ you eat of it, for the die was a priory cast.  And thus they were summarily banished from the Garden, even as they became aware of their nakedness that they ought to cover. They must have grasped that the organs they promptly covered with fig leaves were directly involved in initiating procreation jointly with God; indeed, upon the birth of Cain, the first human being to be naturally conceived and born, Eve proclaims: “I have gotten a man with the [help of the] Lord. And in-as-much-as God the creator of all was invisible, they too — the two earthlings realized — should make their organs of creation invisible just like the creator God was.

If there is a chief cause for the chain of events that led to the two earthlings’ expulsion from the Garden, it is most likely Adam’s adding a self-made prohibition of touching the tree that he concocted and presented to the woman as God’s. Perhaps he thought that if he could get his partner to refrain from touching the tree, he would take an extra step to insure that she would not eat from it.  But in calling upon the woman to refrain from touching that tree, Adam spoke unwisely, let alone impetuously and falsely, betraying a sense of lacking full trust that his partner would heed the literal prohibition as is. All of that resulted in their forced departure from the Garden.  Had Adam conveyed to his partner God’s exact injunction without altering it by adding an extra hedge simply because he did not trust the woman to keep her distance from eating from the tree, the two of them might still have lived eternally in the Garden.

Adam, however, did not keep himself aloof  ”from a false matter” (Exodus 23:7), nor from restraining his ”lips from speaking deceit” as the Psalmist would one day teach humanity (34:14).  Why, ‘’a man has to bear the responsibility for what his mouth utters’’ as one contemporary  commentator phrased it.   Hence, the reader’s take away insight from this iconic narrative is that a person must use discretion and think about his words before speaking them to avoid adverse consequences for his verbosity, let alone when it is not truthful. The worthy goal after all does not justify false means to achieve it for it would likely backfire and fail.

About the Author
Ordained a Rabbi by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1994; in 2019 this institution accorded me the degree of Doctor of Divinity, honoris causa. Following ordination I served congregations on the island of Curacao, in Columbia, MO. Currently serving a congregation in Bend, Or. I received academic degrees from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem (B.A. in International Relations and History), New York University (M.A. in History), and Emory University (Ph.D. in U.S. History). I am the author of U.S. Policy on Jerusalem (Greenwood Press), and numerous articles on biblical themes in various print and digital publications. I have taught in several academic institutions, including Ben-Gurion University (Beersheba, Israel), and the University of Missouri (Columbia, MO). A native of Afula, Israel. A veteran of the IDF.